Not just for kids
By Richard Sands on Jul 25, 2008
I’m Richard, I’m the Product Owner for the infrastructure behind the Social CRM products. Working in IT I’m used to people’s faces glazing over after they ask what I do, but I hoped working on social networking products might change this. It did, just not as I expected, the reaction I get most now is “isn’t that for kids?”.
I suppose I should have expected this, the biggest user of social networking in my household is my young daughter. For her these sites are just a natural part of her daily life. My generation's more used to performing it’s social networking without the aid of computers. I’ve been using social networking sites of some form or another since 2001 when I joined friendsreunited. However I don’t use them to anything like the extent my daughter does. Of my friends that have tried out social networking sites most seem to have followed the same experience:
1. Initial interest as they register and explore the site’s capabilities.
2. Find a few friends and link up with them.
3. Don't find enough friends for the site to work as a social hub, so the account becomes dormant.
This is confirmed by some research by Ofcom in the UK which showed that 78% of adults interviewed didn’t use Social Network sites.
So if the majority your friends aren't active users of social networks this raises the question: How can I get my friends active in my social network? And this often changes to whether there’s any point to social network sites if can’t?
One approach to getting your friends active in your social network is discussed by Ed Yourdon in his blog. Ed suggests that in the future social networks will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones are today. Although I agree with Ed that we should be evangelising social networks and encouraging their use, I'm not agreed with Ed's conclusion that right now there’s no hope for persistent non-adopters or his suggestion of leaving them out of his social circle. This is too extreme for me, I’d prefer my social life to be driven by my personal bonds rather than software adoption.
Despite my best attempts I still can’t get all my techno-phobe friends to jump on the social networking bandwagon, but I want to keep then part of my life, so what can social networking sites offer me. Well I’ve found three options that have helped, admittedly with varying degrees of success.
One problem is that there’s multiple separate social networking sites, and you’ll probably have different friends on different sites. Right now different social networking sites are largely run as separate islands. So if you have some friends hooked on Facebook, and others addicted to MySpace then what can you do? Well, until the walls between the sites come down aggregators such as spokeo and friendfeed can let you track friends across multiple social networking sites, and also to update multiple sites in one action.
If you're interested Stan Schroder has published a list of aggregators, but it is a bit out of date now.
Although I can’t run my social life on the web, I have been running aspects of it on the web for a while now. I’m a keen mountain biker and I go online to keep in touch with an open group of like-minded souls in my local area. This way I can always find someone to go out for a ride with. It’s much easier to get a small group of friends with a shared interest to link up online. And I’ve found that this can lead on to wider things, the small mountain biking site I use now has some facebook integration so I can link it into wider social networks.
So if you have a pastime you share with friends encourage them to join a social networking site. It will only take a few to get that critical mass. If you're really keen then Ning is an amazing site that will let you easily create you own social networking site dedicated to whatever you want, but that's worth a post of it's own.
Like many these days my business contacts are global. Most of them are also very computer literate. My business network is also more extended than my immediate friends and family. All of which are factors which encourage social networking.
I’ve found business networks like LinkedIn and Plaxo to be more than just job-hunting tools (although they can be very good for this). I use them for finding ex-colleagues I've lost touch with, and for keeping track of what ex-colleagues are doing. It gives me an easy way to link up with people when I find I'm in their area. It also gives me an extensive network of resources to draw upon when I need help. I don't need a social network site to do all of these things, but it makes it much easier.
So even if your friends view their cellphones as new-fangled, and computers as a fad, there is still hope. The social networking sites available today have enough to offer to provide real benefit for most of us. And if you're still not convinced then the social networking sites of tomorrow look set to convince you.